Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

(Psalms 85:1-3)

I can not take any credit for the title of this, beloved reader, because it is what the NRSV has for the heading for this psalm. I can take credit, however, for deciding it is a good one for me to use. Just as we can take no credit for the grace and blessing that God bestows on us, but we can take credit for passing on that grace and blessing to others. And in light of the recent events in our world, I think it would be a fine thing to give grace and blessing to each life in our global community. It seems there has been far too little of that going one. And, it is a fine thing, a very very fine thing, to pray for restoration for a our global community.

Certainly there is every appearance and fact that not everyone in our global community wishes to live in harmony with each other person. The events fo the past two weeks give ample proof of that. I can just imagine what Preacher and Seeker would have to say. And it may not be to farfetched a thing to say they are in mourning over the recent events – not to mention what might happen between the time I write this and you read it.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.” (Verse 4)

God’s favor is something that our world desperately needs. It may not be something that some think others deserve, whatever the reason, rationale, or (dare I say it) bias/prejudice. But I tell you . . . exhort you . . . assure you . . . that God’s favor is for all. The writer of psalms may have thought God’s favor had left the people in light of what was happening. Remember, however, this was written before the coming of Jesus and the assurance through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that God’s love in eternal and unchanging.

“Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” (Verses 5 -6)

Ah, here is the key beloved reader. And Preacher/Seeker would be the first to point it out that many times . . . too many times . . . the “people” rejoice in God only when things are going well. When things are going . . . not well – think of the recent events in our world – the “people” fear and bemoan the times, the situation, and the other “people” who have caused the “not well-ness.” But that is the whole problem beloved reader; this “them/us” mindset where one group of people are given lesser value and important than others – it is literally killing us! We need to, for our very survival! Extend God’s favor and blessing to everyone! EVERYONE! Yes, EVERYONE!!!! If we allow the hatred that one person’s or one group’s action effect how we relate to each other, we have denied the possibility of God’s favor extending to them, and have set the stage for more violence.

Now, you may think I just mean certain groups or situations, but I am talking about even those who oppress, persecute, and yes, kill others. That does not mean we do not recognize their sin and evil intent. And we must restrain and stop them from allowing their sin and evil to cause more harm. But we also must make sure that our rejection to the sin and evil does not cause us to spread sin and evil that forms and festers in our own hearts! We, those who are suffering in all manner of ways, need God’s restoration too. And let it be that God’s favor heals the wounds in our hearts and the hearts, souls, and lives of those who have been brutally wounded.

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I have often asked myself in these last two weeks what I can do in the face of this. What can I do? I am not a person who attends rallies and speaks to the crowds. I do not belong to any group that marches or demonstrates or protests. I once did such things, but not now. And I have found that my efforts to add to what has been written social media forums has not resulted in good outcomes. So here I am, simply writing here on my blog, trying to address the issue of the day by putting forth scripture and commenting on it. And living peaceably with all those around me. Not much when you add it up. Yet . . . . .

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Verse 9)

If I can, through my small efforts, show “fear” for the Lord and encourage “fear” that is love, honor, reverence, and devotion to/for the Lord – then I have done much. And you, beloved reader, can do the same!

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Verses 10 – 13)

This is a prayer, and a hope, that the psalmist set forth. And it is also a promise that some day will have its fulfillment. We wait for that day, we long for that day; and, most importantly, we work towards that day in whatever ways we can and when ever we can spreading that love that we KNOW is from God. Because in these days human love just is not enough. We need to connect to the love that is from and of God. And that love will restore us! Selah!

OVERCOME EVIL . . . Do not take vengeance

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Reference: Romans 12:19-21 )

For an entire year (in fact twice for an entire year!) the focus of this blog was “Bread for the Enemy.” The first year was 2008, and the second year was 2013. The scripture passage citation were taken from the book Bread for the Enemy and based on the idea found in Romans that the best way to win over an enemy is to treat as a friend. This of course precludes taking revenge and wreaking vengeance.

But throughout the two years of commenting on passages that point to, advocate for, or cry out for peace and reconciliation, I also learned a lot about revenge and vengeance. Revenge/vengeance is not a “dish best served cold” but a meal served with warmth and caring. For are you not trying prove, beloved, that you are a better person than the one who hurt you or slighted you or injured you in some way? And by your warm and caring response, you leave your “enemy” with little options. Either the person responds back to you with care and warmth, and if so you have won over an enemy. Or they ignore your response and you have shown yourself to be the better person. Or they respond back with the same hatred etc that they first had, and don’t they look like the fool and bully that they are!

Leave straight vengeance to God. Human revenge and vengeance only lasts through this lifetime, and may not even last a lifetime. God’s vengeance, while maybe not being evident in this lifetime is indisputable for the life to come and will last for an eternity!

Choose the better beloved. Whether it be motivated by pure love of those who oppose you OR by the guidance and grace of God that values shalom above all things – may you choose to feed and care for those who set themselves up as your enemies. And may you live in such a way that no one would could you their enemy. Selah!

POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . Giving what is due

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Reference: Matthew 22:21 )

The imposition of taxes on a populace has a long and strong tradition. When Christ spoke these words he was holding a coin of the realm that has Caesar’s face on it. But discerning what is Caesar’s and what is not can be a tricky thing. Peter Riedeman wrote a very good guide and explanation for how the historic Anabaptists felt about it, He wrote, “The governments always do wrong when they set out to exterminate nations. [Isa. 10:1-16] Whoever pays them taxes for that, aids them in their wrongdoing and participates in the guilt of their sin. If they try to force us to it, we say with Peter that we must obey God rather than people. [Acts 5:29] We will not obey them in this matter; we will give them nothing that makes us take part in the sins of others. [1 Tim. 5:22] Many governments use Paul’s statement to defend their right to these taxes, [Rom. 13:7] and support themselves with the words of Christ: “Pay Caesar what is due to Caesar.” [Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25] Yet we fear they do so only to avoid the suffering which the cross of Christ brings. They want the approval of people, which results in the disapproval of God. [Gal. 1:10; James 4:4] . . . However, neither Christ’s words nor Paul’s words were intended to permit rulers to carry out every whim . . . the words make a distinction between two things: First, Paul says, “Give what you owe,” and “Pay to whom it is due.” [Rom. 13:7-8] Second, he does not say, “Give to anyone who wants it, and pay whatever someone wants.” Christ also commands us to give to

Caesar what is Caesar’s. [Matt. 22:21] He does not speak at all, as many interpret it, of taxes for warfare and slaughter. The Pharisees asked Christ whether it was right to continue paying an annual tax. History tells us that this annual tax began when Christ was born, during the rule of the emperor Augustus, [Luke 2:1-5] and there was peace in all the world. Thus this tax was not imposed for war or bloodshed.” [Emphasis mine]

The sentence I highlighted I feel applies very well to the U.S. Government, although I would not say congress passing resolutions (or whatever) to send soldiers (also known ironically as “peacekeepers”) is a “whim.” But as a deliberate choice, it is even worse. Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites have a long history also of refusing to pay taxes on the theory that they support war. But as Riedeman points out, not all taxes are for war. Some modern Anabaptists/Mennonites take this into consideration and pay a portion of their tax withholding the percentage that it is reported goes to the war fund. Others live below the tax line so as to avoid the issue. There are many responses.

I am aware, as a consequence of my job, how many other programs are supported by taxes, truly worthy ones that help people in need. For that reason I pay my taxes and pray that the “whim’s” of the government are wise and peaceful ones. And accept the fact that I might be for the time being praying for a losing cause.

I have also thought long and hard for myself what is “Caesar’s” and what is God’s. “Caesar” is entitled to much less things of mine than God is, and I save all the “good stuff” for God, and for my fellow believers. May you, beloved, only give to “Caesar” that which will help humanity, and may you give to God all of your heart, soul, strength, and body. Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . Well, duh! Of course!

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”  (Reference: Matthew 4:8-11 )

I have always thought this third temptation of Christ was pretty lame. Did the devil not know who he was talking to? I mean really! Tempting Christ with kingdoms of the earth and splendor when Christ through God made creation and will endure beyond any kingdom on earth?! You notice the Christ Jesus did not respond on the temptation but reminded the devil that you are only supposed to worship God. Personally, I don’t think Jesus was very tempted.

May favorite part of this passage is that the angels “came and attended him.” That is the part I would like to happen to me. Historic Anabaptist Pieter Bruynen van Weert speaks in part [I have put in bold that portion] to this desire when he says “. . . dear brethren, be valiant and fearless, and walk with a firm and unchanging faith before God and His church, and firmly resolve, not to depart from the Lord, nor to separate from His love, on account of any distress or tribulation; and He can give you assistance and comfort, when you are forsaken, being deprived of all human help and consolation; for He comes to the help of him that forsakes and denies himself, since He dwells and will dwell alone in the hearts of men, and will not have it that we should serve any one but Him. Matt. 4:10. Thus, be established and built up in Him, and let love increase among you, whereby one sustains the other, and each joyfully endeavors to be the chiefest in virtue.

I don’t know about beloved, but I would willingly exclusively serve the God who endures beyond all things on the earth, and who sends angels to minister to those in need. In fact, God sends the God-self in the form of the Spirit to attend to the needs of those who have place God above and in place of all other things. Why would we serve and worship anything than the authentic God?! Duh! (And selah!)

DO NOT DEPEND ON THE GREAT CROWD . . . Trying not to “buck the system” too much

“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.” (Reference: Exodus 23:2 )

It is the Fourth of July, beloved. It is a day of very mixed emotions for me. I do find honor and courage in the actions of those people who have pledge their lives to serve their country, and who have made sacrifices to do so. But, feeling war is not the right way to solve problems, global and otherwise, I mourn and regret that lives were lost in that way. I think having pride in one’s country and dedication to the good and welfare of neighbors and fellow citizens is very good. But I mourn the fact that humanity-made boundaries separate us from our global neighbors and pit one country against another on a scale of where aggression, hatred, violence and death are acceptable outcomes.

It would be easy and simple, beloved, to just follow the crowd and not give much thought to this day and what it stands for. And I will admit, on the day of I am more interested in the time off from and work and the time with family. But I remain aware that I am taking advantage of a day that I am always slightly uncomfortable with. I have the same problems with Memorial Day and Remembrance Day. But what is a Canadian Anabaptist/Mennonite girl who has been transplanted to the United States do?

I would hope, beloved, that would not follow the crowd but would make considered and deliberate choices for what you should feel you should do. Do not conform to a crowd who does not espouse the same values you do. Stuck up for justice and what is righteous according to our Lord God. And . . . enjoy your Fourth of July remembering who has paid the ultimate price for your freedom and salvation. Selah!

SPIRIT . . . One Spirit . . . . But not one cohesive people

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Reference: John 20:22-23 )

The writer of the gospel of John places this scene after Jesus has risen from the dead and has shown himself to the disciples. Other gospels place the giving of the Holy Spirit after Jesus has returned to heaven, keeping to the strict structure of Jesus gone and the Spirit comes. If the original disciples walked amongst us, we could ask them.

The point is not so much when the Spirit came, but that it did come. The historic Anabaptists tied together the coming of the Spirit and the forgiving or not forgiving of sins. Pilgram Marpeck wrote “For the Holy Spirit of God is the key of heaven, through which sin is retained or forgiven in the community of the saints! . . . . No one is commanded to judge without the Holy Spirit, without whom no certain judgment is possible.” This may seem to indicate that historic Anabaptists left all judgments to the Spirit.

Very early on, when the beliefs of t he historic Anabaptists were solidifying some interpretations of the Spirit would clashes with another, and each group would “withhold” forgiveness from the other, and refuse to have brotherhood, one with the other. This aspect of historic Anabaptist that comes down to us and still lingers in our practices is the act of excommunication. I was reminded of this just the day before I wrote this commentary, and so my ponderings from that are fresh in my mind.

Between the early days of Anabaptism and emigrating and immigrating of Anabaptists/Mennonites to other countries, there is a rich history of how the faith evolved and adapted to the times. Our brethren that retain a less technological type of lifestyle have held on to judging by the Spirit but mediating it through the judge-er’s own agenda. Less delicately put, conflicts of faith issues and life practices meant that believers who were thought to have “gone astray” were excommunicated and could only be admitted back into fellowship after that had confessed their “sins.”

This excommunication practice dates back to Menno Simons who in the middle to late 1400’s thought much and wrote much on evolving Anabaptist theology. His careful thought and wisdom lessened the tensions between the groups, and a harmony of beliefs took hold, at least in the area where he had influence. He had much to say on excommunication, but reserved it for sins against God as acted against a brother or sister. Criminal matters, he said, need to be referred to the civil authorities; but matters of faith should be held between the sinner and who was sinned against, be it a person or the faith community.

Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites do not retain for themselves with the same sense of holding onto forgiveness versus granting forgiveness. We try to forgive everyone because God forgives us. We moderns are much more likely to allow forgiveness to be between the person and the Spirit. Very rarely is personal spiritual/faith wrongdoing referred to church leaders. Criminal/civil wrongdoing is “sniffed out” most effectively by the law.

However, just as in our early history, a clash of faith or belief practices can result in much turmoil between faith communities. Not person to person but group to group. Anabaptists/Mennonites, as we have grown in number, have evolved a diversity of beliefs. And society, culture, and the media have splintered the cohesiveness that Anabaptists/Mennonites once had. We see it, acknowledge it, and struggle with what to do about it. We do not call it excommunication or “shunning” any more. It is now disciplining, as if the errant group have been naughty or mischievous.

I guess when I look at this issue in its entirety, we have done just what this verse from the gospel of John says; withheld our forgiveness from each other. But what Jesus gave as a way for the disciples to teach and guide new believers, we have made a club to hit and correct each other. And it is not a good thing beloved. Not a good thing at all. Would that we would have the wisdom of the original disciples. Would that you would too. Selah!


REPENTANCE . . . Remaking where one lives

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.” (Reference: Jeremiah 7:3-7 )

The historic Anabaptists believed that saying the words of faith and belief were not enough. One had to live them out in one’s daily life, with friends and dears ones as well as one’s “enemies.” The year 2013 on “A Simple Desire” & Bread for the Enemy was based on this premise. While this passage from the book of Jeremiah focuses more on friends and dear ones, the historic Anabaptists applied to those who opposed and oppressed them. Furthermore, they believed it applied to them where they lived and not just in biblical lands. They believed that anywhere the faithful lived, God would be there too. And they did NOT trust in the power of the organized church, but created a community of believers and faithful where they lived out God’s compassion and shalom.

Over time and history Anabaptists, both historic and contemporary, have moved from place to place seeking locations where they can live the life that God has called them to, and to share their beliefs with those who wish to know about them and the God they serve. And in each place they move to and settle, they bring God with them.

May you beloved do as God commands, taking in those in need and remaining faithful to your God. Shalom!